In a recent episode of the Comedy Bang Bang podcast (#370 for regular listeners), comedian Matt Gourley mentioned that Return of the Jedi – probably the most criticized entry in the original trilogy – was released before he had any “critical consideration of a film.” As a result, the movie that introduced the world to Ewoks, has been grandfathered in to Gourley’s psyche to the point that he can only enjoy it when he thinks about it.

I instantly related to this statement, as Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars film in my younger years. Well, more specifically, the Special Edition version. While I was aware of the Star Wars universe growing up, I’m sad to admit I didn’t watch each film from beginning to end until the updated trilogy was released in 1997.

Although I’ve always hated the term “grandfathered in,” I couldn’t help but think about the movies I saw in my youth – before I became just another opinionated filmgoer – that have become all-time favorites because of that pesky grandfather clause.

‘Jedi Rocks’ on Repeat

Pardon me while I date myself for a second. When Return of the Jedi was rereleased in 1997, I had to have the soundtrack. So, like any late-90s music lover, I visited Sam Goody where I purchased John Williams’ epic soundtrack (which came on two cassettes).

I remember the opinionated fellow at the counter who not only rang me up, but also asked which Star Wars movie was my favorite. I, of course, said Return of the Jedi, which sent this man on a mild tirade about how lame the Ewoks were. Looking back, I believe this was one of my first encounters with the dark side of geek culture.

But to be honest, Wicket and his fellow Ewoks certainly factored into my love of Return of the Jedi, along with Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt and all the aliens that hung around the galactic gangster’s palace.

Every Star Wars fan knows that George Lucas made the decision to replace the Max Rebo Band’s original “Lapti Nek” musical number with the more extravagant “Jedi Rocks.”

Hold on, I need a minute to cringe after typing that song title.

In 1997, though, “Jedi Rocks” was my jam! I loved that whole sequence so much I went to go see Return of the Jedi twice. And when I wasn’t at the cinema, I was listening to “Jedi Rocks” on my boombox, and then rewinding over and over again.

Fast-forward to 2015 and I’ll gladly admit that The Empire Strikes Back is the best Star Wars film. And, I hate to break it to 1997 Chris Hassan, but “Lapti Nek” is just a better song than “Jedi Rocks.” The original sequence has a charm that was completely eradicated by Lucas’ CGI-heavy, over-the-top musical number. There are so many unnecessary visuals in the revamped sequence – it’s like Lucas suddenly became a 12-year-old making his first PowerPoint presentation.

Anyway, my connection to Return of the Jedi was formed a long time ago – long before I’d taken college film classes, seen a foreign flick or a movie by one of the greats of cinema, such as Woody Allen or Orson Welles (or as I knew him at the time, the voice of Unicron in Transformers the Movie).

The bonds we form with films in our formative years are often hard to break as we get older. I have to wonder, though, is that a good thing?

Is it Still Good?

When we’re old enough to drive, hold a full-time job or get married, should we be more critical of the films we loved when we were younger?

I’m a fan of film and aim to see the art form’s important works. Still, I only have so much time on this planet and, well, I’ve got other stuff to do. So I’ve found that while I think I’m doing pretty well from a student of cinema perspective, people my age and younger often make a point to criticize me for not seeing what they consider to be classics.

I’m talking about movies like Top Gun, There’s Something About Mary, Wedding Crashers and so on.*

Like, sure, I haven’t seen Happy Gilmore, but has everybody seen The Apartment? Or City Lights? Or anything by Jean-Luc Godard? Apologies for trying to give myself a proper film education!

While it’s easy to judge people’s taste in the social media age based on what movies they list in their online profiles, maybe I’m being too hard on these individuals and their desire to share their love of their favorite films with me. Maybe for them, There’s Something About Mary is their Return of the Jedi.

Still, I wonder if someone who listed a movie he or she loved early in life as a favorite on Facebook could admit that it really isn’t very good in retrospect? Or do all the good memories associated with a film overrule modern opinions?

For example, could someone who loved Breakfast at Tiffany’s growing up, before they knew about racism, admit that Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi is really offensive? Or would admitting that spoil what’s otherwise a very enjoyable movie for them?

In my case, there are movies I owned growing up that I loved, such as Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, that I got rid of when I was old enough to realize I owned Street Fighter starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Then, there are the films like Return of the Jedi, or really any of the Star Wars prequels, which I will never part with, even if they’re not perfect films.

Why? Because there’s just something special about them. When I rewatch Return of the Jedi, I think about the multiple times I recreated Jabba’s Palace with action figures that resembled characters from the film, and then filmed my own version of the musical number using the family video camera. And when I rewatch the atrocious The Phantom Menace, I think about how I skipped school to go see it on opening day and how I left the theater thinking it was the greatest movie of all time.

I suppose it’s just a testament to the power of film, that a single movie can transcend its running time and become so much more to those who view it. But enough about me – what movies have grandfathered their way onto your favorites list?

*Apologies to any Facebook friends of mine who listed Top Gun, There’s Something About Mary, Wedding Crashers or Happy Gilmore as a favorite movie. They were just examples of popular films I haven’t seen that came to mind – my disinterest in seeing them is nothing personal.**

**Chris, stop worrying – you know none of your Facebook friends actually read your articles.***

***Good point, Chris!

  • Mark Pellegrini

    Nice piece!
    I remember the old days when Return of the Jedi was considered “the bad Star Wars movie”; a majority attitude which has long since changed after the Prequel trilogy. Likewise “Predator 2” was once considered “the bad Predator movie” until those AvP films came around. I guess the perspective is “it can always get worse”. Remember when “Alien 3” was “the bad Alien movie”? We didn’t know how good we had it.
    That said, I think being able to cognitively differentiate between nostalgic affection and objective critical affection is an important skill. Return of the Jedi is also my favorite of the original Star Wars films, but I don’t think that as a movie it is the best among them. It’s just my personal favorite. In fact, when I go back and watch it (pre-Special Editions, cuz I’m that old), I usually just pop it in for the first half hour and quit after Jabba’s sail barge explodes.

    Always surprised me that people used to hate that movie, citing the Jabba the Hutt sequence right alongside the Ewoks as a reason why it stunk. They hated my favorite part.

    Is it still a bad movie if you like it? Yeah, it can be. Millions of people love Plan 9 from Outer Space, but it can’t be defended as a good movie regardless of how entertaining it might be. Still, if you can recognize something as a bad movie and reconcile that with your affection for it, you’re on the right track.

    • David Brooke

      I loved Predator 2!

      • Mark Pellegrini

        I can only take so much Bill Paxton.

        • David Brooke

          That’s what she said.

    • Chris Hassan

      Thanks, Mark! I also tend to skip through the middle of Jedi…I think it slows down when they go to Endor, but then picks up again during Luke and Vader’s final battle. I’ve watched Plan 9 and a few other Ed Wood movies and, in my opinion, they’re not very entertaining. Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, however, is a fantastic movie. People should just watch that.